President Cyril Ramaphosa will have to show his mettle in the face of a tug-of-war over who will get the call-up and who will be benched as he compiles his first Cabinet.
Ramaphosa put current Cabinet ministers on notice during his state of the nation address (Sona) on Friday night, saying: “Growth, development and transformation depend on a strong and capable state.
“It is critical that the structure and size of the state is optimally suited to meet the needs of the people and ensure the most efficient allocation of public resources. We will therefore initiate a process to review the configuration, number and size of national government departments.”
Even if the number of departments is not reduced immediately, it is still expected that Ramaphosa will effect a small-scale reshuffle to refresh and boot out non-performers.
This follows a tumultuous political week which saw the resignation of Jacob Zuma as president, in a trademark close-to-midnight address to the nation on Wednesday.
Within hours of Zuma’s resignation, Ramaphosa was voted in – unopposed – and sworn in by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
The right notes
On Friday, a beaming Ramaphosa hit all the right notes in his Sona. He vowed to rebuild South Africa by strengthening its institutions, cleaning house in government and calling on law enforcement to act without fear or favour.
He warned that he will reduce the bloated executive, which has more than 70 ministers and deputies.
This has been the first Sona to go ahead without interruption in three years, with even the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) remaining in the House for the duration of the speech.
Who will deliver the budget?
However, City Press understands Ramaphosa is caught between those who want him to announce his new Cabinet ahead of the all-important budget speech and those who would prefer for him to wait it out.
An MP and ANC national executive committee (NEC) member told City Press that he faces a tough choice.
“Some of us believe that the new finance minister must deliver the budget, because he will have to implement it. Others think that we have had a fast-paced few days and so Malusi (Gigaba) must be allowed to deliver the budget.
“In all fairness, it is not his budget. It was compiled by a team and part of that argument is that the new Cabinet will be a complete overhaul, so such a change should wait till after budget.”
Another view is that opposition parties, the EFF in particular, could disrupt a budget delivered by Gigaba.
‘Gupta ministers must go’
None of Zuma’s Cabinet members has followed suit and tendered their resignations.
Alliance partners who Ramaphosa is intent on mending fences with have already made it clear that certain ministers must get the boot. They include: Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Des van Rooyen.
Given that many embattled ministers were staunch Zuma loyalists, Ramaphosa could try to avoid what might look like a purge.
SA Communist Party first deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila said Ramaphosa should not hesitate in axing “Gupta-linked” ministers.
“For us, the real issue is that the ministers who were involved in corporate capture of the state shouldn’t return to this Cabinet, otherwise they will contaminate it.
“Those mentioned in the Gupta emails, which have proven the network of cooperation between senior government officials and state officials with corporate capturers of the state, it will be sad if they are returned. It is important that in this area there is clear decisiveness,” Mapaila said.
Labour federation Cosatu’s second deputy president Zingiswa Losi warned that the alliance must be included in Ramaphosa’s decision making. This was a veiled reference to Zuma’s late night reshuffles, that took place without consultation.
“While we appreciate that it is the prerogative of the president, we hope that he will do it in consultation with the governing party and with the alliance components,” Losi said.
Balancing the factions
Having campaigned on a ticket of mass appeal ahead of the ANC’s elective conference at Nasrec, Ramaphosa must appease not only the alliance, but also his party, business and his historical support base in the trade union movement and the United Democratic Front. All of them will come knocking to collect.
Names touted from the ANC – people who were instrumental in his campaign – include former KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson Senzo Mchunu and NEC members Zizi Kodwa and Enoch Godongwana.
However, the problem is that the party currently has no vacancies in Parliament to fit in new MPs.
In a gesture of goodwill, it is expected that former African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – who challenged him for the ANC presidency – will be included. She previously served in the Cabinets of Thabo Mbeki and Zuma. It is speculated that she could head the ministry of social development.
Speculation has been rife around who will replace Gigaba in the crucial ministry of finance. Names which have been thrown around include former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and former ANC treasurer Zweli Mkhize. However, it is unlikely that Nene will return to government, as he is less than two years into his various private sector commitments.
Mkhize’s name has been thrown into the mix because there are feelings that, having missed out on a top six position, KwaZulu-Natal should be given one of the most senior and high-profile ministerial portfolios.
It is understood that former finance minister Pravin Gordhan will steer the ship as minister of public enterprises in the new Cabinet.
Another major announcement will be that of Ramaphosa’s deputy president. It is understood that Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu could be given the green light.
But there is a view that it would set the wrong precedent if current ANC deputy president David Mabuza is overlooked and someone else brought in. Mabuza has told allies that he is not interested in the post for now and will only be available to move to Pretoria after next year’s general election. He plans to use this year to focus on the “unity” he was pushing before the ANC’s December conference.
Mahlobo has no worries
Many of the ministers associated with Zuma have publicly claimed they are indifferent to any change in the composition of the executive.
Among those is Energy Minister David Mahlobo, who has said that if he is removed from his political deployment, he has other options to fall back on.
“I am a water scientist by profession. I am a local government specialist,” he said this week, a few hours ahead of Ramaphosa’s election as the new state president.
Mahlobo explained that he specialises in water resource management and could go back there if he is no longer needed in government. He explained his relationship with Zuma due to his previous appointment as state security minister. “As a minister of intelligence, I had to be close to the president.”
He said a president would surround himself or herself with people they trust and an intelligence minister would be among those people.
Mahlobo sought to distance himself from the controversial Gupta family when he explained why a board with his name on it was seen at Dubai’s airport last week – it was while he was in transit to Egypt.
ANC MP Mondli Gungubele welcomed Ramaphosa’s commitment to cleaning house.
“I am so excited because he has already demonstrated in Eskom that he is serious. Remember, if the entities cannot be independent, cannot be self-supporting, they have no reason to exist.
“Traditionally, when entities are put in place, they are there to share the load with government and they are trying to offer to government – through the market – the skills that government doesn’t usually have.
“So if entities cannot demonstrate their capabilities to fulfil that function, something serious must be done about that.”
Gungubele emphasised that Cabinet must have people who enjoy the confidence of South Africans and investors.
“There is a need for change, but how that change must take place, that is the responsibility of the president,” said Gungubele.